A gluten-free sourdough from Gail’s Bakery was recently declared Britain’s Best Gluten-Free Loaf 2020. British Baker caught up with its creator to find out more…

Roy Levy admits he knew nothing about the free-from market when he set about creating Gail’s Bakery’s Gluten-Free Sourdough back in 2016.

The food and creative director, who has worked for the company since 2011, confesses the business was all “all about gluten” and when he first began developing the loaf “it was an absolute disaster”.

Fast forward four years and that very sourdough secured the top spot in the Gluten Free category at Britain’s Best Loaf 2020.

So how does it feel? “Oh boy, it’s something quite special,” Levy admits.

Roy Levy Gail's Bakery

Source: Gail’s Bakery

Roy Levy, developer of the Gail’s Bakery award-winning gluten-free sourdough

The idea for the brown teff, brown rice, chickpea, buckwheat and tapioca flour creation was born when Levy noticed customers developing an appetite for gluten-free products. “They ask you questions, they give you ideas. The conversation was always there.”

He set to work in a dedicated gluten-free kitchen in Hendon, north London to create a loaf that would employ the same sourdough techniques used elsewhere in the bakery. The aim was to make a good loaf, not just a good gluten-free version. He had to “love it” and the final loaf would avoid stabilisers, eggs and “all sorts of funny ingredients” often found in gluten-free bakery items.

“We use water, salt and a little bit of black treacle,” Levy explains. “There’s no more yeast, no eggs, no stabilisers, no nasties. It’s pure. It’s genuine. It takes a classic 48 hours from mixing to fermenting to shaping to resting to baking.”

The recipe took 12 months to perfect – double the time it usually takes him to develop a new product, but he refused to create “a sad substitute for the real thing”. In the end, he described the “very long journey” as enormously satisfying.

There’s no more yeast, no eggs, no stabilisers, no nasties. It’s pure. It’s genuine. It takes a classic 48 hours from mixing to fermenting to shaping to resting to baking

“Professionally speaking I was doing it because I was curious,” he says. “Can you make a decent, good looking fabulous-tasting sourdough with no commercial yeast and just continue to do what we’ve already mastered with flours that contain no gluten?”

The answer is a resounding yes. Judges of the competition, which was sponsored by ADM, American Pan UK and Scobie McIntosh/Revent, commended the 350g sourdough on its inviting exterior, impressive texture and nice taste, describing it as “everything you’d want from a gluten-free loaf”.

Customers love it as well. On more than one occasion, Levy has been told that the bread “is the best gluten-free anything I’ve ever had”.

He acknowledges the sourdough has been working very hard for the brand behind the scenes without “making too much noise”.

The free-from community knew where to find it and it wasn’t something the Gail’s Bakery really talked about. “If you’re looking for gluten-free anything you don’t immediately think of Gail’s,” he admits. “It was the best secret… it was never a big thing.”

Following the awards triumph that could change, especially as Gail’s plans to launch two more loaves geared towards sandwich use. The move follows feedback from a customer who loved the gluten-free sourdough but found the traditional round shape difficult to slice into squares for sandwiches.

Cue lightbulb moment number two. “We’re going to make a gluten-free sandwich loaf – one with seeds and one with wholemeal – lots of fibre, brown, goodness,” Levy says. “It was already a plan and on our NPD calendar for next year, but the award has given us a bit more of a reason and proves we are going in the right direction.”

Britain's Best Loaf Highly Commended Innovation from Gail's Bakery

Waste not, want not

It’s been a whisker over two years since Gail’s created its first bread made using leftover sourdough loaves, but it’s still impressing customers and Britain’s Best Loaf judges alike.

So much so that it was highly commended in the Innovation category at the 2020 competition.

The Waste-less Sourdough is made by taking unsold loaves from the day before and milling them into breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs are then toasted to give them an extra sweet malty flavour. Once cooled, a porridge is made with them which is then mixed into the dough.

The dough is then proved, shaped and baked and the result is a moist, tacky loaf with a scorched crust. Notably, the taste will vary slightly day to day depending on the leftover loaves used.

It sits on the bakery’s Waste Not menu, which now also features Cheddar Cheese Crackers – a crunchy buttermilk savoury topped with off-cuts of Quicke’s Cheddar.

The collaboration with the Exeter-based farm, with which Gail’s works closely, happened when the bakery asked if it could repurpose any leftover dairy ingredients into its products.

“When you get a large wheel of cheddar and cut it into wedges, you always waste the centre,” Levy explains. “So, you have a tube of almost perfectly fine cheese but it’s totally useless. The farm keeps the rind for us, blitzes it together and we make cheese crackers from it. We also use the whey for baking which give a protein boost and lactic milky flavour.”

The bakery also revives its own leftovers with repurposed almond croissants, Soho buns, ham & cheese croissants and sourdough croutons on the menu. And there are also plans to debut a new product in 2021.

“Next year we’ve going to make babka – a yeasted dough, which is a cross between a bread and cake and absolutely divine,” Levy adds. “It will be laminated with chocolate filling or nuts and the dough is going to be offcuts of all sorts of pastry, brioche or croissants.”